CW’s Arrow is no stranger to killing characters, particularly female characters. Since Arrow’s inception, the show has prided itself on taking cues from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight franchise, and portrayed a gritter side of Green Arrow mythology and canon. Arrow gave fans a fraught view of Oliver Queen as a man who struggled with PTSD from his traumatic experiences on the mysterious island where he was forced to kill to survive. Arrow also gave viewers a status quo of female characters being fridged to further the storylines of its’ male characters. Two of these characters are prominent and important female characters within the DC Comics canon and the show sparked internet outrage with their untimely fridgings: Amanda Waller and Laurel Lance the Black Canary.
In season one, Arrow opened with the death of Sara Lance, who existed to provide Oliver guilt and cause her father, Quentin Lance, anger and angst. Laurel Lance, Sara’s sister, was angry over her sister’s betrayal and grieving over her death, but it is Oliver and Quentin’s feelings the show mainly focused on and validated in regards to Sara. In season two we begin to see Arrow’s pattern of fridging female characters arise. Oliver’s mother, Moria, is killed by Slade Wilson as a means to punish Oliver. Shado, the love interest of both Slade and Oliver, is killed on the island, fueling the two men’s feud. Then, various other female characters are either killed or emotionally tortured to further the storylines of the male characters.
In season three the pattern continued with Sara Lance’s surprising and untimely death at the beginning of the season, and Thea Queen’s, Oliver’s sister, death later in the season. These deaths are used to piece together a loose plot about Malcolm and a white Ra’s Al Ghul as the seasons big bads against Oliver. Sara and Thea both return from the dead, but their original murders were never about them, but about Oliver and his feelings. Their return from death doesn’t change the fact that they were still used as plot devices to affect a male character’s storylines.
In season four it was teased that Felicity, Oliver’s current blonde white love interest, would die after being shot. Again, as a device to make Oliver feel bad. The followup story — in which Felicity didn’t actually die but was injured — didn’t do much for Felicity as an individual character and instead focused on her relationship with Oliver, rather than developing her as a character.
But instead of Felicity, it was Amanda Waller and Laurel Lance who would bite the bullet (literally) in Arrow’s fourth season run.
Their deaths are pieces of a larger problem of women dying in media for the furthering of men’s storylines.
From a personal perspective, Amanda Waller and the Black Canary hold great weight to me as characters. When I was a child, I watched a brilliant show called Justice League. It was my first major exposure to superhero characters and mythology. It’s still, to this day, what I believe to be the best adaption of the DC Universe and animated superhero property ever. If Teen Titans is the show that made me pick up a comic book, Justice League is the show that made me interested in superheroes. It also introduced me to two specific characters that I grew to love and adore: Amanda Waller and the Black Canary.
As the Black Canary, Dinah was a force to be reckoned with, made of stringent moral beliefs with a strong and supportive relationship with Oliver Queen. As Dinah Lance, she was kind, patient, and still morally firm. Her relationship with Oliver had that same quick-witted spark they had in Justice League. I loved reading about their relationship in Black Canary: Wedding Planner, where Dinah falls behind planning their wedding because she’s too busy fighting crime.
In Injustice: Gods Among Us, Black Canary and Green Arrow are on the frontlines against a Superman well on his way to becoming a murderous dictator. They fight tooth and nail trying to protect people and the integrity of both the Justice League and Superman himself. Dinah takes a strong leadership role in all of this. Her friendship with Hal Jordan is jeopardized by his siding with Superman. Oliver’s death affects her greatly and yet she still pushes on to stop Superman from destroying the world and himself. With her last breath, Black Canary fights with everything she has against Superman in order to save the world.
Dinah Laurel Lance, always trying to save the world.
That spark that existed between Green Arrow and Black Canary, that existed in the core of who Dinah Lance is, was utterly snuffed out in Arrow’s eighteenth episode, “Eleven-Fifty-Nine” with her unsurprising, but no less than insulting, death.
Let’s take a step back from Laurel Lance’s unnecessary and insulting death and talk about another female character who also received the axe on Arrow this season: Amanda Waller.
When I first watched Justice League and was introduced to Amanda Waller, I was enamored. She was so different from most female characters I had seen at the time. For one, she was black. And she didn’t follow any specific female character archetype I was used to as a child.
Amanda Waller had presence. She radiated a strength and intelligence that put her on equal ground with juggernauts like Batman and Lex Luthor. One of my favorite moments of the entire series is when Amanda confronted Lex Luthor and sided with the Justice League. Not because it placed her on the “good guys” side, rather because it showed that ultimately, Amanda Waller is a good person. Her “good” may not be what everyone else deems “good;” in fact, Amanda Waller’s “good” is very morally gray at times.
Isn’t that fantastic to see in a female character? A black female character? Amanda Waller saw injustice in the world and decided she would do anything to help fix it, any way she could. If this meant bending the rules, so be it. At the end of the day she’s going to do what she feels is right, even if that means breaking a few eggs. That’s what puts her on even odds with Batman and Lex Luthor. What gives her the moniker, The Wall. She’s a wall to protect the people, and a wall that has its cracks and vulnerable spots. And make no mistake, Amanda Waller isn’t a “strong black woman” stereotype — she has her moments of doubt and weakness in the comics.
Amanda Waller put together the Suicide Squad, a group of criminals that could do some good for the world. She wasn’t above bending the law if necessary, and above all, was deadset on making the world safe for people. Even if that meant using criminals, and questioning the Justice League.
One of the main reasons I’m thoroughly excited for the upcoming Suicide Squad film is Amanda Waller, even more so since Viola Davis is portraying her. I fully expect for Davis to bring both ‘The Wall’ aspects of Amanda Waller character, and as the more human aspects of her as well.
Amanda Waller was killed on Arrow in the show’s midseason finale, “A.W.O.L.” I can’t help but wonder if this is what the writers believe to be a clever take on Amanda’s comic book nickname. The minds behind Arrow have a tendency to pull out names from the comics without any rhyme or reason or true appreciation of said name. Just look at how Oliver states he wanted to use “Oracle” as Felicity’s codename. Because Felicity being a hacker, and paralyzed for a handful of episodes before being magically cured earns her the mantle of Oracle. Likewise, having an episode titled, “A.W.O.L.”, a play on Amanda Waller’s iconic moniker, is meant to seem clever or befitting. Instead it comes off as an insult to the legacy of her character. Shot in the head for shock value and replaced with a white woman, Diggle’s wife Lyla.
So what do these two deaths mean? Well for one, it’s troubling that two powerful, independent women with their own storylines which didn’t rely on Oliver’s were both graphically murderer by white men. Amanda Waller was Arrow’s only black female character that was featured in more than one episode with a major speaking role. Amanda is also an important figure in the DC universe with ties to various teams and government programs. Laurel Lance was the Black Canary, a character that is incredibly important to the Green Arrow mythology and has an established mythology of her own.
Both Amanda Waller and Dinah Lance are hugely important to the fabric of the DC Universe. Both women have decades of history behind them, featuring some of the best stories DC has to offer. They were both so much more than what Arrow currently provides its fans. They deserved more than to be murderer for shock value and the reestablishment of narrative stakes.
Using death to up the stakes is lazy writing. Using female characters as your go-to fulfillment of this plot device makes it lazy, racist (in Amanda’s case), and sexist writing.
In the end, Laurel Lance’s death wasn’t even about her, but about her father, Oliver, and his relationship with Felicity. Her final scene was about telling Oliver he was the love of her life — even though in the last two seasons nothing of this sort has been suggested — but she knew she wasn’t the love of Oliver’s life, Felicity was. Give me a minute to try and not scream into my Green Arrow and Black Canary comics while I digest this information.
Similarly, Amanda Waller’s death was used as shock value in the midseason finale, and a white woman, Lyla Diggle’s wife, now has her position as the head of A.R.G.U.S. Amanda (The Wall) Waller gets shot in the head, and then her character is discredited afterwards by Arrow’s would-be leading female character Felicity (who’s also white). The whole subplot reeked of sexism with a side of racism. Considering Arrow’s less than stellar track record with race (they killed Shado, an Asian woman, to further two men’s storylines and whitewashed Ra’s Al Ghul along with other offences), Amanda’s death and following lack of sensitive reaction makes the whole subplot even worse.
Amanda Waller and Dinah Lance are legacy characters. They didn’t deserve to be shoved in a fridge and forgotten after an episode or two. Even if Amanda or Laurel show up within an alternate Earth (such as Earth 2), or an alternate timeline, it doesn’t change the fact Arrow used them and discarded them in violent ways to further the growth of male characters. To make their deaths not even about them as characters, but about others instead.
Neither of these women needed to die. Neither deserved to die.
In the case of Amanda Waller, if it was necessary to remove her from the show because of her upcoming movie appearance (an assertion I doubt) there were other ways of removing her from the story. She could have, for example, left to go work with the US government on a mission with other Suicide Squad members. It wouldn’t have been as graphically shocking, but watching black women die — graphically or otherwise — in media has lost its shock value years ago. It’s not shocking that they chose to kill a black female character, it’s racist and insulting.
Let’s examine the evidence. We have Amanda Waller, a brilliant morally gray black woman who had various ties within the DC universe, the founder and leader of the Suicide Squad, one of the few characters to ever go toe-to-toe with Batman in a battle of wits, murdered. She’s killed as if she were another meaningless henchmen instead of a powerful black woman with a compelling backstory, whose stories explored the more interesting political aspects of the DC Universe. Instead she’s reduced to a one-note antagonist, who seemingly deserves no pity from the shows other protagonists — even the supposedly compassionate Felicity who is narratively meant to be Oliver’s and thus the show’s “light.”
In the case of Laurel Lance, I’m not sure what there is to say. The Black Canary is dead on a show that’s supposedly about Green Arrow. Laurel died because she was seen as disposable. Her character was forced into the background since being removed from love interest status and emotionally tortured for two seasons. Laurel was a polarizing character, with an active fanbase within Arrow routinely expressing their hatred of her and actress Katie Cassidy. She was important enough to kill, but apparently not important enough to care about. Dinah Laurel Lance, Birds of Prey leader, Justice League member, one of the best fighters in the DC Universe, foster mother to many, and long time love of Oliver Queen, was tossed away without any real rhyme or reason. Just shocking enough to get people talking.
The verdict is in, and it looks like Arrow is guilty of killing two vastly important women for nothing more than shock value. Was Laurel killed because of Olicity? That’s a harder case to prove and doesn’t really matter. The point is she’s dead and her death was poorly done and in bad taste. Was Amanda Waller killed because of the upcoming Suicide Squad film? Unsubstantiated evidence, the movies and television shows are separate and even if it is true it wasn’t necessary. Amanda Waller could have easily been shuffled off the show in many other ways that wouldn’t contribute to the larger problem of black women — and other women of color — being killed and marginalized. Whether you loved or hated Laurel or Amanda, the fact of the matter is that we lost two great female characters mainly to further the arcs of the male leads on Arrow.
Black Canary and Amanda Waller’s legacies were tossed aside and disregarded, their own comic canon was disrespected, as were their fans.
Arrow isn’t for comic fans. I don’t believe it’s for women or fans of color either. I’m not sure who Arrow is for anymore, but it’s certainly not me.